“In any country where the army seeks a prominent role in politics, it needs a security dispute to command attention and influence,” says John Ciorciari, an assistant professor at University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. The Thai military is strongly wedded to the border dispute with Cambodia because their most loyal supporters, the “Yellow Shirt” activists, used the issue as a rallying cry to bring down prime minister Samak Sundaravej, a successor and ally of Thaksin, in 2008, alleging his stance against Cambodia was timid. “Now Abhisit is in the position of having to placate this constituency,” says Ciorciari.
The fighting and nationalistic groundswell emanating from the clashes have also helped Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen score political points by unifying the country against a common enemy, he added. Ultimately, however the perceived role of the Thai army in fueling ongoing tension, by intentionally refusing settlement options, for its own political gain has made Thailand’s position inferior to Cambodia’s in the eye of international observers, says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C. He says, “The court of international opinion is stacking up against Thailand.
BP: BP doesn’t think it is *Abhisit* who is placating the yellow shirts, but Ciorciari’s earlier statement on the army needing a security dispute is spot on. The downfall of Samak, or more accurately PPP, in 2008 was more than just over Cambodia although that was an issue that was raised by the PAD repeatedly….
Duncan McCargo, professor of South-east Asian politics at the University of Leeds, suggested that the border dispute was essentially the result of an ongoing struggle between Thailand’s military, its foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s office. “In the past, the Thai army has always demanded the right to pursue an independent foreign policy to advance its own ends. By prosecuting this bizarre and pointless border war, the military is trying to present itself as the true guardian of the national interest, seizing the moral high ground from civilian politicians,” he said. “However, the conflict is further eroding Thailand’s international credibility and is proving a headache to both Asean and the UN. The sooner the Thai military accepts that foreign policy is the preserve of elected governments, the better.”
Probably the only thing that will stop the two ASEAN countries scrapping like this will be a change in the internal political dynamics of either or both countries. Some elements on the Thai side, in particular, have every interest in rallying nationalist sentiment with a good border dispute in an election year.
The conservative yellow-shirt movement has made a lot of political capital out of demanding a firm stand against Cambodian “aggression”; they hope to force the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva to sway in their direction. There is even speculation in Bangkok that the whole border fighting is being whipped up by the army in order to precipitate a sense of crisis in the country, in order to have the election cancelled altogether. What the army fears most is a victory at the polls for the red-shirted supporters of the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra
Suthep was responding to reporter questions which were likely in response to leaked reports from Bhum Jum Thai quoting Newin as telling those in the party that there will be no election. According to the PRD, Newin’s father and speaker of the House Chai says he has never heard Newin say that, but when asked whether the BJT leadership thought that there will be no election, he refused to give an answer, but said that the clashes may be a reason why the election is delayed (พร้อมปฏิเสธให้ความเห็นเรื่องที่แกนนำพรรควิเคราะห์ว่าการเลือกตั้งจะไม่เกิดขึ้น แต่เชื่อว่าปัญหาชายแดนไทย-กัมพูชา ซึ่งมีการปะทะกันขณะนี้อาจเป็นสาเหตุหนึ่งที่จะทำให้การเลือกตั้งต้องเลื่อนออกไป). According to MCOT and Naew Na, Chaovarat, the BJT leader, also stated that the clashes may be a reason for the delay in the election.
BP: Given that BJT have previously preferred a delay in the election, and they are close to the military, will we see pressure to delay the election from within the governement?